7 July 2009
Security Council
SC/9699

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6157th Meeting (AM)


top United Nations officials, briefing Security Council, highlight drug


trafficking, military coups as key threats to fragile west africa


While praising fragile West Africa’s steady progress towards lasting peace, senior United Nations officials warned today that a string of countries along the subregion’s Atlantic coast were fast becoming hubs for the trafficking of cocaine to Europe, and urged the Security Council to support efforts to tackle that emerging threat, as well as other challenges, including fallout from the global financial crisis and recent unconstitutional changes of government there.


Said Djinnit, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office in West Africa (UNOWA), opened his briefing to the Council by describing the subregion as the continent’s “peace and security laboratory”.  Having suffered more than its fair share of civil strife during the 1990s, with dire consequences for development and human security, West Africa had nevertheless emerged as a subregion “with the strongest determination and most effective institutional frameworks to respond to the challenges posed by political instability and armed conflict”, he said.


He continued:  “More precisely, the determination of West Africa to decisively address its crises, with the support of the United Nations and wider international community, as well as its efforts to strengthen institutions, governance and the rule of law, and to enhance the role of civil society, have led to an important reduction in the scope and level of violence across the subregion.”


Urging the 15-member Council to help strengthen the rule of law in the subregion as the best way to reduce political instability and the threats posed by drug trafficking and organized crime, he emphasized that the significant progress achieved in West Africa remained “extremely fragile” as the root causes of conflict and instability persisted.  Indeed, that progress was reversible in some cases, as illustrated by the recent democratic setback in Mauritania, the prevailing crisis in the Niger and other looming crises.  Moreover, emerging challenges, including terrorist activities in the Sahel, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, governance, drug trafficking and organized crime jeopardized ongoing peace efforts in the subregion.


Along with the troubling resurgence of unconstitutional or violent changes of government, he said drug trafficking was perhaps the subregion’s most prominent security threat.  Indeed, West Africa had emerged as an important transit route for the trafficking of drugs, especially cocaine, from Latin America to Europe.  Trafficking networks were taking advantage of the weaknesses of West African States, including porous borders, an abundance of unemployed youths, widespread corruption and poverty.


Calling for unstinting and broad support of government and United Nations measures to combat drug trafficking and other criminal activities, he noted that tomorrow, UNOWA, the Department of Political Affairs, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Department of Peacekeeping Operations and INTERPOL planned to launch the West Africa Coast Initiative, a joint programme aimed at building police and law-enforcement capacity in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau with the aim of helping them more effectively prevent and combat organized crime and drug trafficking.


Also briefing the Council was UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, who told the Council that, according to the 2009 World Drug Report, the volume of drug trafficking through West Africa seemed to be diminishing significantly, although about 20 tons of cocaine were still transiting the subregion every year.  However, the situation remained volatile and recent upheavals in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau had shown there were powerful forces with a stake in the illicit activity, and to whom more justice and transparency would be a threat.


“They might resort to desperate measures in order to hang on to power,” he warned, adding that poverty and development must be addressed to prevent that, especially because drug trafficking was being displaced into the Sahel, North Africa and down the south-west coast.  “Organized crime is undermining the rule of law, governance, the environment, human rights and health and made the region more prone to political instability and less able to attain the Millennium Development Goals.”


He said that, in order to tackle the threat posed by organized crime, UNODC had, among other things, established transnational crime units in Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire to complement peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.  The agency had also worked with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to get police advisers on the ground.  However, more efforts were needed throughout the subregion to support security-sector reform because all too often the State’s monopoly on the use of force was abused for the enrichment of a select few.  Recent coups and coup attempts underlined the need for civilian oversight of the armed forces.


Affected States also needed the hardware to confront criminal groups that were often better equipped than police, said Mr. Costa, who is also Director-General of the United Nations Office in Vienna.  He called for the provision of patrol boats, helicopters and radar, which were desperately needed to defend the sovereignty of the subregion’s States against the onslaught of organized crime.  “The bottom line is to strengthen the rule of law in West Africa,” he added.


Emphasizing the importance of placing the situation in West Africa in a global context, he said that, because most illicit activity was only transiting the subregion and not originating or ending there, rich countries, particularly in Europe, should curb their appetite for the drugs, cheap labour and human beings smuggled through the region and stop the use of West Africa as a dumping ground for weapons, electronic waste and fake medicines.


He highlighted grave and troubling statistics from a just-released threat assessment of transnational trafficking flows in West Africa, noting that 55 million barrels of oil a year were lost through theft and smuggling.  Some 80 per cent of the cigarette market in West and North Africa was illicit and 50 to 80 per cent of medications in the subregion might be substandard or counterfeit.  West Africa was also a major destination for electronic waste, including old computers and mobile phones, which contained heavy metals and other toxins.


“Our experience shows that joint action can indeed fight crime,” Mr. Costa said in conclusion, citing the Kimberley Process against blood diamonds, the Bamako Convention against hazardous waste and now the Praia Process against drug trafficking.


The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and ended at 10:50 a.m.


Background


Meeting to consider the report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) the Security Council was expected to hear briefings on the work of that Office and on drug trafficking, described in the report as one of the more dangerous forms of organized crime in the subregion.


According to the report (document S/2009/332), drug trafficking and cross-border organized crime continue to impact negatively on security in West Africa, but persistent and growing international engagement, combined with bold initiatives at the national and subregional levels are beginning to yield results.  However, a decrease in narcotics seizures does not necessarily imply a reduction in trafficking, but may indicate a modification of the traffickers’ modus operandi as a result of tougher law enforcement.


“Nonetheless, law enforcement and criminal justice authorities across West Africa are taking unprecedented steps in the fight against drug trafficking and the apprehension of perpetrators,” the report continues, stressing that sustaining the current downward trend and consolidating operational cooperation mechanisms will remain an important challenge for West African States and their international partners.


Although drug trafficking is emerging as one of the more pervasive and dangerous forms of cross-border organized crime, other illicit activities continue to cause concern, the report points out.  For example, the Gulf of Guinea is confronted with multiple threats, including human smuggling, oil bunkering, small arms proliferation and piracy.  Another sensitive area is the Sahel, where criminal and other armed groups increasingly conduct their activities in collaboration with terrorist groups operating in the area.


The report notes that, among other challenges, the resurgence of coups d’état has generated serious human rights concerns despite West Africa’s notable progress in democratization and consolidating the rule of law over the last few years.  That problem is compounded by the impunity of perpetrators in the military and security establishments of the countries concerned.  Coups d’état are illegitimate, constituting a severe setback for democratization and a threat to national cohesion and stability, with significant subregional implications.  “As such, they require firm condemnation and response on the part of the international community.”


Overall, despite some positive developments, including the holding of peaceful elections in some countries and increased awareness of drug trafficking as a threat to regional security, the Secretary-General remains concerned by the “continued fragility of the progress made and, in particular, the continuing vulnerability of the subregion to socio-economic, environmental and humanitarian challenges”.  At the same time, progress in governance and the rule of law, although significant, has remained essentially fragile and might even be reversible in some areas.  Furthermore, emerging and growing security threats, including organized crime, illicit and terrorist activities and climate change, jeopardize ongoing endeavours and the gains achieved so far.


The report says that, despite those and other debilitating internal and external factors, including food insecurity and the global financial crisis, the subregion is witnessing the emergence of positive trends towards peace, post-conflict recovery and stability.  West African economies continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace.  However, the dividends of economic growth are yet to be widely shared across all sections of West Africa’s societies.  “Prevailing trends in the subregion of great concentration of wealth within small groups of individuals on the one hand, and rapidly deteriorating living conditions for the majority on the other, are of concern as these are ingredients for instability and violence.”


Gains in the economic sphere are being countered in part by the negative effects of the ongoing global financial crisis, the report states, noting that one important effect of the crisis has been a significant reduction in remittances from West African migrant workers, which could lead to a further deterioration in the living conditions of the most vulnerable.  Addressing the negative impact of the crisis has emerged as a priority for preventive action.  Its magnitude will further stretch already overburdened State capacity to deliver social services and meet growing social demands, fuelling tensions and contributing to political instability.


In the coming six months, the report says, UNOWA will continue to spearhead its synergy-driven approach and focus on priority areas, including advocacy for conflict prevention and peace consolidation in the subregion.  In particular, it will continue to work in tandem with United Nations entities and other actors, including civil society, to further support the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Mano River Union in the areas of good governance, human security, human rights, gender and the rule of law.  “It will also continue to play a significant role in the concerted efforts to address the scourge of drug trafficking and organized crime.”  UNOWA could also further facilitate ongoing efforts if strengthened with a small police capacity with adequate specialist expertise.


Briefings


SAID DJINNIT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office in West Africa, emphasized that the search for a solution to the challenges facing the subregion could not be dissociated from the overall peace efforts under way continent-wide.  Trends showed that, since the early 1990s, West Africa had been the continent’s “peace and security laboratory”.  Indeed, while the subregion had had more than its fair share of violent conflicts, with dire consequences for development, stability and human security, it had nevertheless emerged from those circumstances with the strongest determination and most effective institutional frameworks to respond to the challenges posed by political instability and conflict.


He said that the commitment of the West African peacekeeping force ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States’ Monitoring Observer Group) in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the contribution of ECOWAS and its member States to addressing conflicts in the subregion, including in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and Togo, were testimony to the strong political will of the leaders and people of West Africa to remain at the forefront of peace efforts in their subregion.


Indeed, there was no open armed conflict under way in West Africa today, he continued, noting that the Secretary-General’s report underscored the progress in overall peace and security in the subregion, especially the positive developments registered in the post-conflict peacebuilding recovery and peacebuilding process, as well as progress in the area of governance and the rule of law.


More precisely, he said, West Africa’s determination decisively to address its crises, with the support of the United Nations and the wider international community, and its efforts to strengthen institutions, governance and the rule of law, and to enhance the role of civil society, including women, had led to an important reduction in the scope and level of violence across the subregion.  Peace operations in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone were steadily moving forward towards post-conflict recovery and peace consolidation.  In Guinea-Bissau, the first round of presidential elections had just been concluded and declared free, fair and transparent.  At the same time the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS) was transforming into an integrated office to ensure better coordination of activities with all stakeholders in tackling that country’s formidable peacebuilding challenges.


“It is important to emphasize that the significant progress achieved by West Africa in the area of peace, security and stability remains extremely fragile as the root causes of conflict and instability persist,” he said.  In some cases, that progress was reversible, as illustrated by the recent democratic setback in Mauritania, the prevailing crisis in the Niger and other looming crises.  Moreover, a number of growing emerging challenges, including terrorist activities in the Sahel, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, drug trafficking and organized crime jeopardized ongoing peace efforts in the subregion.


The potential impact of those threats on international peace and security should not be overlooked, he stressed.  Meanwhile, the social and economic situation remained precarious as a result of the combined effects of high demographic growth, declining economic growth, rapid urbanization, youth unemployment, climate change and food insecurity.  That was further exacerbated by the impact of the deepening global economic and financial crisis, which was increasingly destabilizing.


Highlighting three specific challenges to peace and security that continued to deserve special attention, he said the resurgence of unconstitutional or violent changes of government was one of the most alarming threats.  The Council had focused on that issue in presidential statement S/PRST/2009/11, which noted the 15-nation body’s “deep concern” about such unconstitutional actions, and called attention to the “possible violence that may accompany such events”.


Recalling the recent unconstitutional changes of government in Africa, he noted that, besides the case of Madagascar, they had all occurred in West Africa, adding that an attempted coup had also been reported in the subregion in the reporting period.  UNOWA had been playing an active role in the collective efforts deployed to address the subsequent political crises.  In Mauritania, for instance, efforts spearheaded by the Facilitation Team comprising Senegal, the African Union and the United Nations had culminated in the signing in early June of the Dakar Agreement between the main political forces, paving the way for a return to constitutional order and the preparation of presidential elections scheduled for 18 July.


That effort could be emulated throughout the subregion and the continent as a whole, he said.  “Meanwhile, in Mauritania, we are faced with the challenge of creating conditions for a free and fair electoral process despite a very tight schedule and a rather difficult political environment, as a result of mistrust and conflicting interests among the various parties represented in the consensus institutions, including the Independent Electoral Commission.”  He went on to highlight efforts to address challenges in Togo and Guinea, before turning to security-sector reform, a “burning issue” in a number of countries in the subregion.


He said UNOWA had initiated a process aimed at clarifying the role of security sector and other institutions and enhancing their capacity to provide security during electoral processes in West Africa.  That initiative, jointly carried out with ECOWAS, United Nations country teams and Governments, was pressing ahead, with interventions planned in countries where critical elections were scheduled in 2009 and 2010.  Of the other recurrent security challenges, the most prominent was drug trafficking.  Indeed, the subregion had emerged as an important transit route for trafficking drugs, especially cocaine from Latin America headed to Europe.  Trafficking networks were taking advantage of the weaknesses of West African States, including porous borders, an abundance of unemployed youths, widespread corruption and poverty.


Calling for unstinting and broad support of Government and United Nations measures to combat drug trafficking and other criminal activities, he noted that tomorrow, UNOWA, the Department of Political Affairs, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and INTERPOL planned to launch the West Africa Coast Initiative, a joint programme aimed at building police and law-enforcement capacity in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau with the aim of helping them more effectively prevent and combat organized crime and drug trafficking.  The Council and the wider international community should support those and other initiatives.


To be effective, action on cross-border and regional challenges to peace and security should be part of a broader, comprehensive strategy of conflict resolution and crisis prevention.  In that context, UNOWA would continue to promote and strengthen a regional, integrated approach while continuing to pursue its efforts to promote synergies within the United Nations regional system to help West Africa address its daunting socio-economic and development challenges.


Speaking in his capacity as Chairman of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission and of the Follow-up Committee of the Greentree Agreement, Mr. Djinnit said he and his team would continue to provide support to the ongoing demarcation of the boundary between the two countries, paying particular attention to promoting confidence-building measures, addressing the problems faced by populations along the boundary, and encouraging bilateral cooperation in tackling common security threats in the Bakassi Peninsula and beyond.


ANTONIO MARIA COSTA, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Director-General of the United Nations Office in Vienna, said that, according to the 2009 World Drug Report, the volume of drug trafficking through West Africa seemed to be diminishing significantly, although around 20 tons of cocaine were still transiting the subregion every year.  The situation remained volatile and recent upheavals in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau showed that there were powerful forces with a stake in the illicit activity, and to whom more justice and transparency would be a threat.  They might resort to desperate measures in order to hang on to power.  Poverty and development must be addressed to prevent that.


There were other risks, he said, noting that drug trafficking was being displaced into the Sahel and North Africa, as well as down the continent’s south-west coast.  Drugs were not the only illicit flows; UNODC was releasing a threat assessment on transnational trafficking in West Africa which showed that the subregion was also a crossroads for the smuggling of cigarettes, arms, people, counterfeit medicines, toxic waste, oil and other natural resources.  Organized crime was undermining the rule of law, governance, the environment, human rights and health, making West Africa more prone to political instability and less able to attain the Millennium Development Goals.


In order to tackle the threat of organized crime, Mr. Costa said, UNODC had teamed up with the Department of Political Affairs, UNOWA, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and INTERPOL to support the ECOWAS Plan of Action against drugs and crime, to be monitored by the Security Council.  The Office was establishing transnational crime units in Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire to complement peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.  It was also providing technical assistance to strengthen criminal justice and crime-fighting capacity in Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, and soon in Mali and Sierra Leone.  UNODC had also worked with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to get police advisers on the ground.


More efforts were needed throughout the subregion to support security-sector reform because all too often, the State’s monopoly on the use of force was abused for the enrichment of a select few, he said, adding that recent coups and coup attempts underlined the need for civilian oversight of the armed forces.  Affected States also needed the hardware to confront criminal groups that were often better equipped than police.  Patrol boats, helicopters and radar were all desperately needed to defend the sovereignty of States against the onslaught of organized crime.  “The bottom line is to strengthen the rule of law in West Africa.”


Underscoring the importance of placing the situation in West Africa in a global context, he said that, because most illicit activity was only transiting the subregion and not originating or ending there, rich countries, particularly in Europe, should curb their appetite for drugs, cheap labour and human beings ‑‑ modern slaves ‑‑ that were being smuggled through West Africa, and stop its use as a dumping ground for weapons, electronic waste and fake medicines.  Some 55 million barrels of oil a year were lost through theft and smuggling.


Approximately 80 per cent of the cigarette market in West and North Africa was illicit and 50 to 80 per cent of the medications used in West Africa might be sub-standard or counterfeit.  The subregion was also a major destination for electronic waste, including old computers and mobile phones, which contained heavy metals and other toxins, Mr. Costa said, adding in conclusion that joint action could indeed fight crime, as seen with the Kimberley Process against “blood diamonds”, the Bamako Convention against hazardous waste and now the Praia Process against drug trafficking.


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For information media • not an official record